Ohio State’s Undergraduate Student Government has given a cultural group $1,500 after initially denying its funding request.
USG’s general assembly voted Wednesday to allocate the money to help fund the Committee for Justice in Palestine at OSU to put on a cultural event, called A People with a Culture, that would bring in a Palestinian-American comedian and other entertainment.
CJP is a group “devoted to raising awareness and educating the public on the Palestinian struggle for justice and self-determination” made up of students, faculty and community members, according to its constitution on the Ohio Union website.
CJP appealed to the general assembly after its initial request for funding was denied by USG’s allocations committee earlier this semester.
Before the Wednesday vote, USG President Taylor Stepp, a fourth-year in public affairs, said USG would work with CJP to give whatever help they needed for their event if the general assembly ultimately denied funding.
Needing a two-thirds vote Wednesday to overturn the original vote, the general assembly voted 24-11 after questioning CJP representatives about their event for nearly 30 minutes.
USG parliamentarian Erik Leiden, a third-year in political science, criticized that level of questioning as being excessive.
“That was about 50 times as many questions as we have ever asked of any allocation or any bill,” he said at the meeting after the questions were finished being asked. “I just want to start off by stating my concern over scrutinizing every single dollar that’s going to be spent and asking very specific questions.”
Sarah Almusbahi, CJP president and third-year in international studies and neuroscience, told The Lantern after the meeting, the issue was bigger than her planned event.
“I was happy with the result, but going into it, the result wasn’t the only thing on my mind,” she said. “I thought it was important to bring up the fact that students should have control over where their money is going. We all pay the fees … and denying students from celebrating their own culture is something that’s concerning and it’s something that doesn’t represent us well.”
Leiden said backing issues and organizations of political nature is not new territory for USG.
“We just sponsored the Columbus Education Plan, not monetarily but with USG (human) resources for several weeks. That is political, whether or not we spent money on it,” Leiden said. “Palestinians have had to overcome a lot of adversity, and we shouldn’t be putting up roadblocks for a nationality group in our organization … People who are going to be attending this event pay the student activity fee, and that’s where this money comes from. To say, ‘No, you can’t have this money because we don’t like what politics your organization advocates in other scenarios,’ I think, is really reprehensible.”
Shawn Picha, USG chair of the allocations committee and a third-year in finance, said at the meeting part of the reasoning behind denying funding was to “stay out of a political debate.”
Picha also said the ticket prices of $10 were seen as potentially “cost-prohibitive,” and that USG aims to only fund events for which cost would not limit any student from attending.
CJP’s event will be open to the public, which Picha said is also a concern. While USG does fund events with the potential of having attendees who are not OSU students, Picha said events should be primarily targeted at OSU students.
However, in the email Almusbahi said was sent to CJP denying funding, the contents of which were sent to The Lantern in an email, the only reason given was concern over the language in CJP’s request which said “the audience will leave the event experiencing the rich Palestinian culture and understanding how it has been a symbol of strength and pride during the Palestinian struggle for independence against the Israeli occupation.”
CJP also received $1,000 in funding for its event from OSU’s Multicultural Center, and the total cost of the event is expected to be nearly $5,000, said Arslan Sheikh, the USG diversity director and a fourth-year in political science, at the meeting.
A letter to the editor, published in The Lantern Wednesday, criticized USG for its handling of CJP.
A People with a Culture is set to take place Nov. 23.